On Saturday mornings, I run errands, and when I finish I stop to pick up warm donuts and hot coffee. I balance with one hand and steer with the other as I round the corner toward home. And, then I catch a glimpse of Sully riding alongside Daddy. He pumps the pedals on his new Mongoose bike complete with wild green wheels. He sports his sky-blue Winnie-the-Pooh pajamas. Sully is four.
He sees me and the race begins. He gets ahead. I let him win. And I wonder as he turns his Mongoose into the driveway, honestly; how many more times will I get to see him riding training wheels in Winnie-the-Pooh pajamas? I mean, 25-year-old men don’t ride bikes like that. They don’t wear jammies.
I will be 63 when Sully is 25.
My mind instantly carries me to a place I don’t want to go. I think of men, and how, despite what all the feminists say, how very hard their American lives can be. The day-in and day-out grind of making it; the stupid STUPID things they do try to make their worlds better only to end up making them infinitely worse.
When I worked in downtown Oklahoma City, a stone’s throw from the window I stared out every day, three people in one year leaped to their deaths from atop the parking garage where I parked. Like clockwork, the cops would shut down the street and they’d call in some crew to clean the pavement.
To clean the pavement…
The jumpers – that’s what my co-workers called them – were always men.
By 5 p.m., I’d race across the street and try to get out of that garage as fast as I could, running as I was from the dead man’s ghost or my own imagination.
Sully pumps the pedals hard to get up the incline of our steep driveway. Hours later, I catch him in his room. I pop my head in. Surprised, he jumps a little. I say I want to tell you something, and so he looks up at me from his building blocks and fire truck.
You make me very happy, I say, and he smiles big and goes back to playing.
Later still, he sits on the couch. He watches Veggie Tales. I rub his back. He says it feels good, and I’m grateful for the moment. Juliette is on the computer. The Super Bridgy is asleep. With his back to me, I tell him that God loves him. He turns around and asks how does God love him. I say like this, and I pull him to me and hug him.
I tell myself if he can be secure in my love for him, maybe he will be secure in God’s love for Him. He’ll let that love fill him and sustain him through the day-in and the day-out, especially the cruel parts, which we all must face. This will, of course, be many moons from now, long after the Mongoose bike is in a landfill and the Winnie-the-Pooh pajamas are folded and put under his pillow for the last time.
Sully is four. He pedals his Hot Wheels faster than lightning in circles in the driveway and around my car. He breaks at my feet and asks how come he can ride so fast. I tell him because he has strong legs. He raises his eyebrows, sticks out his chin and shakes his head yes.
Today, I get an email. Subject: prayer request. But, I have enough to pray about, how can I make time for more? I open the email. Pray for our troops. It’s 122 degrees in Iraq.
Oh yeah, there’s a war going on.
And, Gen X in Iraq, a Navy Reservist who was never going to see combat; he’s somebody’s son. I don’t know whose. And, I remember, he was marking time by football seasons. It’s nearly fall. Just one more season to go and he’ll be home.
I rock my son to sleep. I sing to him these words:
And talk of poems and prayers and promises
And things that we believe in
How sweet it is to love someone
How right it is to care
How long it’s been since yesterday
What about tomorrow
What about our dreams
And all the memories we share…*
And, when I’m absolutely certain he’s asleep, I lean down and whisper in his ear that jumping will never be the answer, and there are no guarantees when you join the Navy Reserves.
*from John Denver’s Poems, Prayers and Promises